Career Mobility For Black Professionals: Mentorship as an Underground Railroad

Duane A. Williams, Rahjaun Gordon, Pearl Stewart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Career mobility for Black individuals may appear individualistic, ignoring the collectivistic endeavor involved to achieve success. This qualitative study explored participants’ mentorship relationships, analogous to the underground railroad system, as it relates to navigating their careers. Participants, who are Black professionals in various career fields, detailed how the support provided by their mentors allowed them to understand the nuances of career mobility while gaining lifelong relationships, resources, and networks necessary for continued and sustainable success. The theoretical frameworks for this study used Phenomenological Variant Ecological Systems Theory (PVEST) and Social Capital Theory. Analyses of 15 individual semi-structured interviews were highlighted in 3 central themes: (1) mentorship plays a key role in career mobility; (2) forms of mentorship: social/emotional vs. instrumental support; and (3) conductors of the railroad: mentorship across racial lines. This work has implications for development of comprehensive mentoring programs and career support for Black professionals across disciplines.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)234-250
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of African American Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2023


  • Black professionals
  • Career mobility
  • Mentorship
  • PVEST and social capital theory


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